A community forum with law enforcement and civic leaders — held Sunday in the Uptown 23rd District following the release of video showing the beating of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police — turned tense when the mother of a teenage boy shot dead by Oklahoma City police confronted Chief Wade Gourley.
“It’s the closest that I’ve been to being able to have a conversation with Chief Gourley,” Cameo Holland said. “I’ve tried for more than two years now. And he can tell the public that he couldn’t speak with me because I took legal action. No, I took legal action because you wouldn’t speak with me. Every email, every call, every third party that reached out to you on my behalf was ignored and dismissed.”
On Nov. 23, 2020, officers shot and killed Stavian Rodriguez after he exited Okie Gas Express around 7 pm at 7917 S Western Ave., dropped a gun on the ground, then appeared to be reaching towards the back of his pants.
Police say they suspected Rodriquez of attempting to rob the store.
His death at the hands of police came during a year when other high-profile deadly encounters with law enforcement here and across the nation sparked massive protests.
Five Oklahoma City police officers are facing first-degree manslaughter charges in the Rodriguez case.
The family of Bennie Edwards, a 60-year-old man shot and killed by Oklahoma City police in 2020, has sued two officers in federal court, accusing them of using unjustifiable force and failing to follow department policies when encountering a person dealing with mental illness.
Edwards was shot and killed by police after they arrived at a northeast Oklahoma City store where Edwards was accused of bothering customers.
The encounter ended with officers shooting at Edwards, who had a knife, as he ran towards them and then shooting him in the back as he attempted to run away.
Sgt. Clifford Holman was charged with first-degree manslaughter for the shooting.
For more than 10 minutes Sunday, Gourley sat quietly and attentively as Holland, the mother of Rodriquez, singled him out in front of dozens in attendance.
“When I saw that you weren’t gonna do the right thing, and when I came to the conclusion that you were a coward, then what other option did I have?” Holland said.
The forum was billed as a time for the community to discuss concerns with law enforcement following the death of Nichols, 29, in Tennessee.
Video released Friday showed Memphis police officers repeatedly kicking and punching Nichols, and beating him with a baton.
Nichols died three days later on Jan. 10.
Five Memphis police officers were fired and charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct and one count of official oppression, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis reported.
Two members of the Memphis Fire Department have been relieved of duty for their involvement in the traffic stop, along with two deputies from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office seen in the video.
Over the weekend, Americans gathered in cities across the nation to protest police violence.
On Sunday, Gourley was joined by top cops in the metro, including Edmond and Moore, to discuss Nichols’ death and how police departments can better engage with their communities.
While the beating of Nichols was condemned, police chiefs here speculated about a police culture that leads up to such incidents, and how strong unions often use litigation to prevent department heads from disciplining bad officers, up to and including firing them, before a deadly incident like Memphis occurs.
“I was pleased to see not only that charges were able to be filed swiftly, but that also that the agency was able to take action, because I believe it helps with community trust and with relationships in general,” Gourley said.
Much of the discussion centered on how the community can contact authorities with complaints about police interactions, with the chiefs urging the public to make their complaints known.
“The chiefs actually do wield quite a bit of power, even with some of the constraints that we’ve talked about up here already,” Moore Police Chief Todd Gibson said. “Do wield quite a bit of power on how we’re going to address and how we’re going to respond to the community when they draw issues to us. We all are accessible. Yes, some of us have more layers to get to than others, and some might be more difficult than others, but don’t let your voice be stifled.”
Still, Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice of Oklahoma City quieted those in attendance when, with Gourley seated nearby, she suggested communication between the police chief and some city leaders is nonexistent.
Nice said she speaks with officers to learn more about police work happening in her neighborhoods.
“It seems as if there are a few of us that can’t even have conversations with the chief of police for our city,” Nice said. “When I walk in the room, mine doesn’t even speak to me.”
Marilyn Luper Hildreth, daughter of the late Oklahoma City civil rights icon Clara Luper, called for law enforcement and residents to work together in unity.
“All changes are possible if we work towards that change,” she said. “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Mother of Stavian Rodriguez confronts OKC police chief at forum